In 2005, EMMEDIA set out to create an expanded document to commemorate 25 years of its existence. Through the involvement of its many members, the histories and future aspirations grew into a formidable volume.

I conducted these interviews 2005 – 06. They were eventually edited into Expanded Standard Time Line, Artists and Electronic Media in Calgary / Emmedia 1980 Through 2005 …

See: Roots in the Past, Runners into the Future – Valerie LeBlanc, pps. 144 – 163

Artists and Electronic Media in Calgary
EMMEDIA 1980 through 2005…

Edited by: Grant Poier, Calgary artist and co-founder of Centre Art Video/EMMEDIA
Published by: emPRESS (EMMEDIA Gallery and Production Society Publications, Calgary. 2009)ù
ISBN – 978-09737962-6-1

Roots in the Past, Runners into the Future – Valerie LeBlanc

Although there is no crystal ball technology out there yet, it seems that no one would argue the fact that predicting the future goals of any artist run media centre would require an examination of the past and present. Looking at strengths, what has worked well, and how things have evolved are important. The sum of the parts; the people that form the staff, the board of directors and membership all play key roles in shaping that organic combination whose total adds up to continued success. Social and intellectual nurturing are enduring factors in not for profit societies. No one person can provide a complete picture of what the future might hold but each of us has ideas that could contribute. Technological changes continue to shape the criteria and methods of artist activities. EMMEDIA is known for various forms of technological training and mentoring, equipment rental, and its archives that attest to the accomplishments and activities of it members. Past technological changes include transitions from analogue video and audio production systems into digital systems and Internet assisted studios and venues. The range of future possible technologies is as exciting, and unproved as the prospect of travelling to the moon was to the grandparents (and great grandparents) of many contemporary media artists. Location is key to any organization and on the eve of its 25th anniversary, EMMEDIA is looking at the probability of moving. Although relocating a centre is challenging, it could be an opportunity to enhance what exists while adding to the current range of offerings. Will it go solo, join other centre(s) in a new space, find street front visibility; these are some of the current questions facing the organization.

In the interests of obtaining a well-rounded survey of what media artists predict specifically for EMMEDIA and for the larger scheme of artists run culture, I interviewed eleven persons. I began with the idea of talking to a few people, and soon realized that the diverse range of artist run cultural interests, made it necessary to include more voices. As I was presenting and had reason to travel during 2005, I conducted interviews in Calgary, Alberta; Comox, British Columbia; Halifax, Nova Scotia and over the Internet. Each person has a different involvement and point of view, but common threads run through all of the conversations. Sharon Desjarlais, Keltie Duncan, Jim Goertz, Paul Wong, Paul Henderson, Karilynn Ming Ho, Vern Hume, James MacSwain, Peter Morgan, Sharon Stevens and Austin Andrews are the people interviewed. The conversations provided me with blocks of information to piece together in deciphering the known and recorded past, and to see some runners leading into the immediate future.

Keltie Duncan is in the final year of her BFA, Media Arts and Digital Technologies Department (MADT) at the Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD). In the spring of 2005, Keltie curated EMMEDIA’s Digital Sugar Program. She brought the project through the full range of steps from call for submission, to a smooth flowing public screening with national announcement and payment of artist fees. The Digital Sugar Program is an EM initiative to showcase Students while contributing to their public emergence. Keltie and a peer group of Students also formed their own cooperative company this year and currently supply 3D graphic imaging to oil based industries in Alberta. To meet the needs of clients, her new company has to be self-sufficient technologically. When asked what would tempt her in the future to be part of EMMEDIA, she answered that office and studio space, a faster computer would be most useful on a ‘few days at a time basis’ to compile project elements. She added that the screening room facility is very important and that a gallery / installation space would be a good addition. Keltie has also been active in her use of the QuickDraw Animation Society, the artist run centre that currently shares space in the same location as EMMEDIA. She says that because the two organizations are under one roof, there are important links and a closeness that she would like to see maintained. When Keltie commented that future new media might require a whole new kind of approach, I asked her if she ever thought about the possibility of creating her own new media gallery? Her answer was that her cooperative group is hoping to get enough contracts to be able to put something back into the community but that might be in the form of starting a record label.

Providing the venue to gather a crowd and to launch audio CD’s is one of the things EMMEDIA has down in the past and it seems that it is still wanted. ____________________________________________________________

Karilynn Ming Ho graduated in the spring of 2005 from MADT at ACAD. She has been a member of EMMEDIA since 2003 when her video was one of four chosen for production in the Focus on Diversity Project. At that time, I worked to set up the program between the ACAD’s Diversity Education Committee and EMMEDIA. When asked about the project, Karilynn remarked that it was both a good experience and a valuable introduction into the organization, “We were offered the producer membership as well as a number of camera, lighting and editing workshops. Doing the training and going through the archives really helped in terms of feeling a part of the organization. The experience of having access, becoming comfortable with the facilities and the staff gave me a really good sense of the technical possibilities, how the organization is run and what kind of community EM is.” If she were to change anything, it would be to curate a show based on diversity rather than to make a video. She arrived at the idea while viewing artists’ works based on diversity that were screened from the EMMEDIA archives during the Focus on Diversity Project. Karilynn expressed that once she had taken those initial workshops, the things that EM could offer her, changed. As a Student, she could use the facilities at ACAD and as her videos, “did not usually need a complicated setup,” she could also work at home. She relied on EM’s facilities during the summer months, to dub and, occasionally, she videotaped in the screening room. Karilynn finds the equipment rental rates to be affordable, and, at the time of the interview, was looking forward to attending visiting artists advanced workshops. She would like to see EMMEDIA showcase more screenings on all levels; local, national and international. She believes that group screenings promote important dialogue. Karilynn had some insightful comments on the possibilities of relocation, “ I think that the problem with EM’s current location is that some people cannot find the place, it needs higher visibility. I recently visited a media arts centre in San Francisco that had a storefront. Black and white videos were playing in the window and it caught peoples’ interest to go inside and look. The ideas of visibility and easy access are hugely important toward increasing awareness that an organization exists. With EM’s current location, you go around back and then up the stairs. I think it deters people from coming in.” Karilynn thinks that video production at EM should continue in the directions it has been going since the beginning of the organization. She would like to see a ‘new media’ art centre develop in Calgary and, “without giving up anything that it is now, EM might be able to move on that opportunity.” During the Fall (2005), Karilynn moved to Toronto to pursue her art career in that city.

Keltie Duncan and Karilynn Ming Ho are two emerging artists that offer fresh ideas for the future but they also appreciate and value the current and past strengths of EMMEDIA.

Jim Goertz continues in a long and active involvement at EM that dates to the mid 80’s when he was doing sound recording and multi- track mixdown. He was interested in working in a multiplicity of forms, installation based, immersive environments and his desire to include sound in these works led him to hang around at EM. Jim was a curator / director of the Second Story Arts Society Gallery, the organization that later developed to become Calgary’s TRUCK Gallery. He says ‘curator’ is an odd word to use but admits to renovating the Second Story space, hanging around and putting shows together. EMMEDIA was next door at 1014 MacLeod Trail South in the Bell Block. Through previous projects, he knew Grant Poier, Vern Hume and some of the other people working at EM. Before graduating from art school in 1984, he was using a black and white camera and a three-quarter inch U-matic deck, the only video equipment available at ACAD so when he started to venture into EM, it was not so much for the video access but to get his hands on some sound equipment. It is common knowledge that the staff working at ‘not for profit’ centres put in extra volunteer hours to carry through the vision of the organizations. In 1989, Jim Goertz was hired as the Production Coordinator of EMMEDIA and he held that position for ten years. He currently teaches in MADT at ACAD; is on the Board at EM and serves on the Production Committee. I asked Jim to explain some of the factors that affected his personal involvement as an Artist, Producer, Staff Member and Volunteer at EMMEDIA over the years. He talked about division of time, focus of work and sense of community and he had a lot to say.

JG: I struggled with it for a long time, and view it as one of those typical stories that is heard over and over again. When someone is heavily involved as staff, they cannot leave their work. I was that kind of staff member to the soul, to the core of my being, I breathed it and it consumed a lot of energy. I would go to the Independent Film and Video Alliance meetings and it would be the same story from everyone. It is really hard to make your own work when you are working at an artist run centre. You start out thinking, “Wow, it is going to be really easy to make work,” because you have constant access to equipment. My contract included unlimited access at no cost but when you are working with it all day, every day and helping others, it becomes difficult to haul the gear away and to try to make something. So I found that my day-to-day investigations as an artist were cut way back, I became less active as an independent producer and much more active as a non-independent producer. In other words, I do not think that I stopped being a creative individual, but I slowed down working on my own projects, they became sporadic, less consistent. I wrestled with it for a long time but continued to put my creative effort into other people’s work. I contributed to the community, sharing my activity and my expertise and that continued for ten years. I felt that I gained a lot from that shared role; I continued to develop as an artist, gained a lot of knowledge and benefited personally but, it is only in the last five years that I have really come to appreciate that it was okay to work in that way. During that time period, I think I made three or four of my own media pieces, some installations in my home studio and some short videos that I did not try to distribute. I really thought that my main work and contribution as an artist was through serving the community, not holding creative control but giving technical advice, support and encouragement. And I think that if we looked at the tapes in the archives from that time period, my name would be on at least three hundred of them.

I also gained from the community through that sharing; I knew nothing when I started. On my first day, I had to look behind the machine and figure out ‘what’s video in and what’s video out.’ I had never worked with equipment before, other than with the camera, at a very cursory level. I knew nothing about the technology or how it worked so I had to figure it all out and I was really making it up as I went.

VL: I think by doing that, you were able to teach it well. I took some of your workshops over the years and they were always very thorough.

JG: That could very well be but I have never thought of it that way. EMMEDIA seemed to sense, or knew of my limited technical knowledge so one of the very first things that they had me do was to take a one-day technical seminar put on by Matrix. (At the time, it was called Western Cinevision. It was the SONY dealer.) Their technician taught the seminar, and I remember there were about 20 people from all parts of the industry present. In my mind I was just totally, ‘whoa, that’s how it works!’ Nobody had really sat me down and described it to me before then. So a lot of the information that I got right from the very beginning was from listening to a video broadcast engineer talk about how video worked. He brought details like the reason you needed 75 ohm resistant cables to send video down a wire and he used all of these analogies and metaphors that really made sense to me. The seminar was very important to me at that time and I do not remember it ever being offered again.

Jim Goertz has seen a range of technological changes during his time at EMMEDIA. On the audio side of things, ‘a lot of people had small tape recorders at the time, but EM had a ‘state of the art’ Ibanez two second digital delay.’ The rest of the system was analogue and consisted of an eight track reel to reel and a mixer. Insert editing onto the tape was possible, as well as the option to cut the tape with a razor blade and splice it. For video, it was all three-quarter inch with an A/B Roll System that was purchased in 1988. There was also a new edit controller capable of performing insert edits and it could roll two players and a recorder. Before that time, it was a single player and a single recorder. The technology to keep it all in synch required ‘miles of cables, a master synch generator that all of the machines slaved to, and it required daily tuning.

It then went from 3/4 inch U-matic to M2 broadcast format. Jim explained that transition.

JG: It was a cost issue and it was a tough decision on the part of the Production Committee. The 3/4 inch edit suite was dying, eating tapes; the machines were really on their last legs. Betacam SP or Betacam was way too expensive at $75,000. for the recorder alone. At the same time, SONY had just announced that they were going to come out with a low cost Betacam SP, a scaled down Betacam with two less audio channels, but it was not going to be available for 6-8 months. EMMEDIA could not wait that long so we took the step of buying the M2 system. Part of the decision was on a spoken understanding that NUTV was going to buy M2 as well, forming a user base in Calgary. At that time, M2 was used by Saskatchewan Television; TV Ontario; all of NBC broadcast network in the US; it was also used a lot in China and a fair amount in Europe. By far, the majority of broadcasters used Betacam, so we were debating what to do and decided to go ahead, but it was not a unanimous decision. It was a majority decision but there were a lot of people who were not pleased. The good thing was that we got the equipment and got it going right away, we were able to afford more equipment than if we had of gone with Betacam and the quality of the M2 was really good, very durable. The bad thing was that when people shot on Betacam, they had to dub their tapes before they came in to edit at EM. NUTV was not in a panic, so they waited and went for the new cheaper Betacams when they came out. Those systems were still more expensive than the M2. Most artist run media centres still had 3/4 inch, and later they started to buy the digital editing systems. We actually held off for a long time before we jumped into digital and the reason was that we had a big investment in the M2. It was a very good-looking video medium and people did good work on it. Then we slowly got into digital, at first, weboughtanAmigawithVideoToastersoftwarein1990. Itwasnotaneditor; essentially it was a switcher, allowing us to do some effects. And meanwhile, digital was really crude at that time, requiring a lot of processing power. Basically, it was offline editing, you still had to go to your online tapes after you had finished the digital edit. We waited when all of the other centres began buying it. Then, when we thought that we were starting to slide backwards, we jumped in to become completely digital. Currently, we maintain a Betacam deck to put work back to tape for festivals. We also have sound a sound facility with a Nuendo Audio Post Production / multimedia lab.

One of the questions, criticisms to EMMEDIA right now by its major funder, the Canada Council is why are we are using dv when dv is really at the bottom of the digital formats.

VL: Are they willing to go to the step of investing in a higher format?

JG: Yes, one of the things we would like to do is jump up but it does require a big jump. I think that EMMEDIA might not be that vocal about it, but I think deep down in our history, we have been primarily concerned and interested in content. It has always been more important than the format. I think that there are a lot of people who continue to make good work on fairly unsophisticated gear. And while saying that, dv equipment is inexpensive, which could translate in many ways into unsophisticated. But we all know that the look is way better than we would have been able to get ten years ago.

VL: Ok that covers technological changes that you have seen. In what ways have you seen it affect the media work and the kinds of involvement?

JG: I am not the first to say this but I think that the way artists are able to work with digital technologies has allowed for more spontaneity in terms of editing. This is especially true because digital nonlinear editing allows instant changes in media. I think what happens is that people try out a lot more things that they would not have necessarily tried out in the analogue world.

VL: Along the same lines, I think that the kind of experimentation that artists have done has really changed the industry as well. We have seen the television standards change immensely. They are now using a lot of artist experiments.

JG: Yes, although I think that is arguable. I think it is less obvious now only because the broadcast industry is less centralized than it ever was. I think that it has more to do with broadcast regulation.

VL: I guess that I am thinking of it more in terms of the images you see. Camera shake, was the first thing. The image had gotten so over-produced that people started to say the next thing up should be the consumer look. So those very high production standards turned around.

JG: I guess that artists have had influence but the technology also has had influence. The fact that technology is in the hands of consumers opens up a whole reservoir of content.

VL: More freedom in a sense. Have you seen any demographic shifts in the membership?

JG: I think that there is a lower percentage of those trained in the arts becoming members. There were a lot of people in the past that became members to get their hands on equipment, but now it is not the primary reason.

VL: People have more of a chance to work home with home editing systems.

JG: Yes, everybody has a friend with something; people can get their hands on gear one way or another. I know that there are a few members who use EMMEDIA’s equipment occasionally, when they cannot borrow a camera from a friend. They are members who might not necessarily be interested in the community part of it.

VL: It can work the other way too, there are a lot of people who do not need the gear but they want that sense of community.

JG: That is the one of the biggest strengths at EMMEDIA right now, not the technology, but the community.

VL: Exposure for artists is one of the things that I always mention to students when there is a call for student participation, ‘the publicity goes all the way across Canada, every artist run centre starts to see your name and you become one of the artists to watch.’ Along the same lines, what do you see in terms of the future demographic?

JG: Currently, we are actively engaged in a search for a new space. Part of that search is the possibility of purchasing that space. One of the things that we have identified on the Facility Search Committee is the need to present and to develop work and not so much to have a screening room. There are pretty good opportunities for screening work but places to develop and to present performance are lacking.

VL: Performance and Installation?

JG: Yes, a performance lab where you could actually present work. I think that will possibly change things. It links to the changing demographic. In the past we had mid career artists involved, we still have a few, as well as some senior artists, but the vast majority of (artist) members, are emerging artists.

VL: and emerging producers?

JG: Yes, and I think that one of the things we could do in the future, if we are able to have a bigger space, would be to develop more large scale installations and to experiment. I also think that a supportive studio / presentation space would re-attract mid to senior career artists.

VL: I have talked to some of the artists emerging from schools and have come away with the impression that they are not interested in becoming part of EM. I wonder if you can see how those people might be attracted. I suppose what you have said already, by providing a space to work through an installation or put up an installation is part of it.

JG: One of the things that we have to remember is that EMMEDIA is a support centre for independent artists, and independent by definition is just that. When we see artists or producers that are so independent that they do not even need the independent media centres, we sometimes feel a little bit hurt. In fact, that is really okay. I do not think that we should be trying to collect everybody into this fold. You do not have to be a member of an artist association to be an artist.

VL: There are Artist Producer Members and there has been growth in Producer Members from other fields at EM. That represents a form of diversity but can you make any comments on overall diversity of the membership demographic?

JG: There is diversity, probably in a parallel to the diversity of the city. EMMEDIA has never made a concerted effort to address issues of diversity. The policy has always been an open door to artists and ideas of diversity have just basically happened on their own. We have never had quotas on our boards, and it has never even been an issue.

VL: Are there some changes that you would personally like to see there? JG: Well going back, we have a space where people rent equipment, take workshops,

exchange skills and at present, we edit work there. It is a big part of it (producing), but editing is fairly solitary. I think it would be very useful if we could have a fairly robust, technologically supported space to collectively create work. I think that it would be a big draw for a lot of people.

VL: I think that the video jams that have taken place at EM have given a sense of that.

JG: I also think it would be very interesting if there was funding that allowed us to explore things that we cannot explore now with our limited budgets; probably new technologies, issues of distribution, maybe even producing or co-producing work. ______________________________________________________________

Sharon Stevens has been involved in the artist run community for close to twenty years and has worked through many projects at EMMEDIA. She currently shares her time working two part time jobs, “I work at Calgary City Hall for Joe Ceci, the Alderperson for Ward Nine. He is very progressive, working from a social justice point of view, and I am his Community Development Coordinator. The other half of the time, I work for Arusha, a ‘not for profit’ organization. For over thirty years, it has operated under a broad umbrella of moving social justice forward. I work there under two programs; Infoactive and Calgary Dollars. I feel very fortunate to be in a city like Calgary, getting paid to work as an activist. Those are the jobs that I do for paid employment and I also do video art.”

I asked her to talk about her history as a video artist and her involvement at EMMEDIA over the years.

SS: I made my first tape with Kathie Dodd in 1989. She was on the Board of Directors, worked there as a producer artist, and was a Staff person for a while. When we started, we were often asking ourselves if we were artists trying to make an activists’ statement or activists trying to make artistic statements. We were not making work in the tradition of what I thought of as ‘inaccessible art.’ We were dealing with issues, primarily womens’ issues, feminist ideas and delivering it through an artistic slant. We were partly inspired by the Canadian video artist and documentarian, Norman Cohen who was brought here in 1988. He talked about ways of trying to solicit the active viewer.

Watching TV, even when we watch documentaries, is so passive. And from our feminist perspective at the time, we were really involved in what we were calling ‘participatory, process oriented work.’ For example, through working with women who were leaving violent relationships, we made a documentary with them, giving them control over the script. We did a rough draft and then they made editorial changes. We took it back to the EMMEDIA edit suite and re-cut according to their specifications. That kind of documentatry is more accepted now, as documentary has become more a part of the ‘entertainment’ world. It goes with the whole notion of empowering participants because they had a story and we had video making skills. We were promoting the ’demystification of the medium itself’ so we also taught our participants. We got them behind the camera as well as in front. In the beginning, and it was not a huge struggle, but there was some resistance at EMMEDIA. At the time, every production had to be approved by the Production Committee.

I do not think that it is set up like that anymore but this was around the 1989, ‘90, ‘91 time period. We were contracted by Canadian Mental Health to do a documentary and we had to present a case that this was not a commercial product. I do not want to paint a really restrictive picture but I think that it was through people like Kathie Dodd that things evolved. She was someone who spoke for making EMMEDIA more open, more accessible to the community at large. It was though the work that I did, and lots of other people that I think EM has become a more grassroots community based organization, as well as an artist run centre. I believe that there is still a policy concerning competitive pricing of commercial videos but I think that a project co-produced with a community service group would be totally within the EMMEDIA’s mandate today.

Sharon refers to herself as being self-taught, learning ‘on the job.’ The first work that she did with Kathy Dodd was when Kathy had freshly graduated from the CTSR (Cinema, Television, Stage, Radio) Program at the SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology). Coming at it from a political activist perspective, Sharon learned her ‘aesthetic sensibility around the work, to portray things in an accessible way with an artistic lens’ while she and Kathie Dodd worked within the production company, ‘Not A Pretty Picture.’ For the project ‘The Anger Channel’ in 1995, they collaborated to form a group of six women from various disciplines. The participants were; a playwright, an actor, a visual artist, a performance artist, as well as Sharon and Kathy. Each of the six women wrote a five minute piece about what anger meant for her, while learning to use the camera. Again they struggled with the criticism that ‘participatory, process oriented work implied low tech, low production values.’ Sharon states that although this is partially true and intrinsic to the work, the content remains for her, the critical hinge.

Through the Learning Resource Centre, Stevens and Dodd also worked within another group called ‘Inside Out.’ It was also a mixed group that included visual artists, videographers, puppet makers, dancers, and theatre people who worked with disabled persons. They put together a project to teach people with learning disabilities how to operate a camera. With Inside Out, a forty minute tape was created to document the process, but the project was not designed to produce a finished work.

In 1991, they put together the project ‘Video Graffiti.’ In summary, Sharon says that demystifying the news, how it is broadcast, packaged and given to us without requiring us to think about it were the focal points of Video Graffiti. Again, it dealt with the ‘active versus passive’ viewer. They created three tapes on what they believed were subjects not addressed through the media; PMS, Condom Use, and Destruction of Community. The three shorts and documentary testimonials were packaged together and played on the streets in Calgary. They redesigned a newspaper box, inserted a monitor and put it out next to other newspaper boxes. In the end, they put together a twenty-five minute package with the three five-minute tapes and a documentary video of how it looked on the street. That footage was shot from a camcorder mounted on top of the box.

After that project ended, Sharon stated, “Kathy Dodd went into the film world ‘for real’, and we did not work together any more. I continued to work mostly on my own.” Doodle Bugs was an individual project of Sharon Stevens. In 1994, she had help to complete postproduction on the tape through EM’s Artist in Residence program. “It was the straightest thing I have ever done. I had been making videos for ten years, raising my kids as a single parent and trying to support myself in this field by doing outside work. My family could really not understand ‘what in the hell’ I was doing so I decided to do a documentary about my family’s life. It demystified my work for my parents and it was a really successful documentary. It played on TV and won at AMPIA and really helped my family to understand ‘why I was doing what I was doing’.” In 1998, Doodle Bugs was in the Alberta Biennial.

As Sharon Stevens and Kathy Dodd brought various groups in to work through EMMEDIA, I asked her to describe the sense of community she was able to take away in return, “ Again, the thing that I feel most fortunate about living and working in Calgary is that there are a number of pockets, a number of ‘isms.’ I was involved with the feminist movement, peace movements, and community activists working to stop the LRT from going through neighborhoods. I feel that I have been able to develop at EMMEDIA and keep crossing over into those other communities.” In 2003, Sharon Stevens collaborated with Jim Goertz on the Shaganappi Youth Community, Digital Direct Project for youth ages ten to twelve years. Asked what EM can or should do in the future, she says, “More of the same, making video accessible, not just by saying, ‘we are an artist run centre and you can come to us,’ but by taking our product, information, technical staff, our people, out to community groups. The Digital Direct Program is a hugely successful model that should continue. To add programming, I would suggest that becoming more involved with festivals would be welcome.” __________________________________________________________

Sharon Desjarlais is the third oldest of nine children and has a big family herself. She is the mother of five children ranging from early school age to twenty years. Sharon’s mother is Cree and her father is Cree, Métis and Ojibwa. She believes that spirituality and the artist are connected and her own family’s cultural history includes traditions of dance, music and song. Sharon is a recent graduate (spring 2005) of the CTSR Program at SAIT. She has been involved with EMMEDIA on a number of levels since 2001 when she took a camera workshop through Herland.

Prior to the Herland experience, she worked for the Alberta Chapter of Women in Film and Television, ‘mostly with the paperwork side of the industry.’ She says that seeing many talented women working as successful producers, directors and technical people drew her into getting more directly involved. She asked for a ten-day break from her job and used the time to take part in the Herland workshop. After that, Sharon did three projects through EMMEDIA’s Bars and Tones Scholarship Program.

Sharon Desjarlais thinks that EM’s best asset is the support system it offers for independent artists when they are starting out. Delivered through the staff and training workshops, she mentioned that while doing her first projects, Shauna Kennedy and Brian Battista helpfully shared their knowledge. Her direct experience led to the conclusion that school cannot fully prepare you for the industry and that the hands on training she received at EM greatly helped her to learn camera and editing equipment, lighting and technical aspects of blue screen use. Having benefited from taking workshops at EM, she would like to have the chance to take some more advanced sessions. While still in the planning stages, Sharon would like to do something via the Internet, mixing mediums to carry out a webcast.

Sharon was the Aboriginal Consultant for both CSIF and EMMEDIA in 2003. Also in 2003, she worked as the Program Mentor for the cooperative ACAD / EMMEDIA – Focus on Diversity Project. She advised the participants during the creative process. In retrospective, she would redesign that position to work more closely with the Students during onsite production. In 2003 she and Jim Goertz worked with EM’s summer satellite program. The project, carried out through the Métis Calgary Family Services was a big success with both the high school aged participants and their families. The young people were so enthusiastic that they hired a limousine and rolled out a red carpet for the premiere screening of their works. For Sharon, becoming interested from a technical standpoint began through observing her own children, “ They sometimes work as actors and accompanying them ‘on set’ gave me a fascination with something about looking through that lens myself.” In EMMEDIA’s future, Sharon Desjarlais would like to see more outreach for urban native communities. ______________________________________________________________

Currently the Executive Assistant Director of EMMEDIA, Peter Morgan was born in Calgary, both of his parents are from Trinidad-Tobago. Peter graduated from the University of Calgary with a General Studies Degree, 2000 and his BFA in Painting and Printmaking with a minor in multimedia art, 2005. He is a very active individual working within many organizations simultaneously. He is currently Vice-President of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance Society (AMAAS), Treasurer of the After Thought Arts Society, Member of the Herland – in Camera Workshop Committee and part of the Studio 4 Art Collective. His work has been shown in Calgary at the San Juan Print Gallery, the Nickle Arts Museum, Untitled Art Society Gallery, Little Gallery University of Calgary, Mezzanine Gallery, EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society and the After Thought Society. During the fall, 2005, he was finishing his year long installation project, ‘The Spaces in- between Self.”

In 2001, Peter was invited to work as a student technician in the Integrated Media Arts Lab of the Fine Arts Department, University of Calgary. During that summer, he landed the position of Executive Assistant to Dianne Dickert, the Director of EMMEDIA. Peter received what he refers to as ‘an immense education in the running of an artist-run centre.’ Under Diane’s direction, he learned accounting, grant writing, how to create and market promotional material, and other skills important to the work of artist-run centres. Working at EMMEDIA has also allowed him access to production and post- production equipment. That has facilitated in the making of his own work. Peter remarks, “This was not as important when I was a student, because I had access to resources at the University. Now that I am out to school, EMMEDIA is a crucial resource in my production as a professional artist. Without EMMEDIA I would not be able to afford to make work in new media and video.”

I asked Peter about the ratio of staff versus members at EMMEDIA and he informed me that currently, there are 290 members and four staff. It is a given, that there is never enough time in a day to get everything done. He says that most important skill you must learn is to prioritize, ‘most of the staff puts in more that their normal work hours to get it all done, you have to let go of the idea of the 9 – 5 job.’ The unexpected rewards include being a part of many projects, “I have been able to help in the growth and innovation which have always been a vital part of EM, and in the creation of new projects and initiatives. Also, people are grateful for the time you take to support them with their projects. I feel my work is worthwhile and I know that the things I do on a daily basis may help member artists / producers create work. It might be work that they otherwise would not have been able to make. I know that people / audiences will be able to see works and experience some artist works that they would not otherwise have access to. I feel constantly, that I am part of the larger picture of ensuring a stable and growing community for the arts in Calgary.”

I asked Peter to talk about growth and change that he has witnessed since joining the staff at EMMEDIA. “The staff, board and members of EMMEDIA have always been supportive of my personal growth in the position, and as an artist. I have seen growing collaboration between all of the artist-run centres, an increase in new media and installation works, as well as in the understanding audiences have for new media. During my term, EM’s newsletter ‘Handheld’ has changed into a magazine with national distribution.

Peter has always seen EMMEDIA as proactive in programming new technology. Part of EM’s 25th activities has been a re-envisioning of the website, the plan is make full use of it as a resource for video and new media presentation in the future. He mentioned that it has long been a goal of EMMEDIA to expand the site in those directions, and in the New Year (2006), changes and growth in the web presence of EMMEDIA will be initiated on various levels, including programming initiatives to encourage web based works.

EM can sometimes be more current than the established educational institutions; it can be quicker to instigate technology changes. Peter thinks it is because EMMEDIA can be more adaptive to acquiring new technologies and integrating them because of how it is set up. As EM exists to meet the needs of artists / producers, its mandate is to empower artists through permitting them access to current technologies. How fast it can acquire new technologies is governed by financial restraints but they do try to keep up.

Diversity issues have been addressed at EM and I asked Peter if there are any moves to start an ongoing diversity scholarship program, the second part of my question was, if it was to come about, could he see it as a collaborative effort with other arts and educational facilities within the city? “EM has always been open to partnerships in regards, to expanding the diversity of our membership. Historical collaborations with Herland, ACAD initiatives and aboriginal communities have resulted in positive outcomes in the past. Currently we are involved in producing works with members of the disabled through the SCOPE project. Again it comes down to funding and staff resources, it is always a battle between maintaining our core programs and creating new ones. EMMEDIA welcomes and encourages diversity in all our programming and production. It is evident in our Production Access and in the Homegrown Curator Programs.” _______________________________________________________________

The Faucet Media Centre, in Sackville, New Brunswick is one of the newest in Canada. It opened its doors in the fall of 2000 under the auspices of Struts Gallery. The Faucet’s launch was long overdue on the New Brunswick contemporary arts scene. The Struts Gallery worked with individuals and organizations in the town of Sackville for several years to make it happen. Audience was developed through panel discussions, media events at Struts; CHMA radiobroadcasts from Mount Allison University; and lectures at the Owens Art Gallery. Fundraising through events and contributions from local merchants supplied the first TV monitor and VHS unit to play programs of video screenings. Gregory Elgstrand, Director of Struts 1995 – 1998 and John Murchie, current Director and longtime member, each played key roles in Faucet’s launch. For more detailed information about the startup, see New Brunswick Media Ticks, 1998. (ISBN 1-895337-11-9) In 1997, I was commissioned to contribute to the publication with an essay on the history of time-based arts that had already existed in New Brunswick.

The Faucet’s first Manager: Tim Dallett began conducting camera and Final Cut Pro editing workshops for its members in September of 2000. The Faucet continues to operate under same roof as Struts and I asked Faucet’s current Manager, Paul Henderson, about that symbiosis. “Conceptually I find the relationship fantastic. Struts is committed to providing artists in the region with opportunities to participate in the contemporary art community. Media arts are a big part of that community and that was the impetus for the Faucet startup. The majority of our members’ practice is interdisciplinary and that is the model we have taken for the Centre. We offer multiple production options, a range of workshops and a broad selection of presentation events and exhibitions.” I asked Paul, who graduated from Painting, Alberta College of Art and Design, 1999 to provide me with some history of how he arrived to manage the Faucet. He related the combination of events that led him east. He began by mentioning that he graduated just as the ACAD Media Arts & Digital Technologies Department started and that he had already made a couple of experimental videos and sound works. While studying, he had worked in the Yukon during the summers and decided to move there after receiving his BFA. In Dawson City, he got involved with the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture and the ODD Gallery. He did a lot of volunteer work with the gallery; a residency; he helped to organize a film festival; and did some teaching and design work. While on vacation in Toronto, and running out of money, his friend, Candice Tarnowski (also an ACAD graduate) was doing a residency at Struts. She sent him an email about the Faucet job opening up. “Some other friends had ‘crashed’ their car in Sackville while on tour, and they had decided to stay. All signs said ‘Sackville,’ so I spent my last money on a plane ticket to come here, without actually having the job. I was hired and I started in February, 2004.” Some might argue that Paul Henderson’s story would amount to ‘fate’ deciding his involvement; in essence it has elements of many fabled ‘Canadian’ experiences. When I asked him how different he finds it being in the east, and in particular, Sackville, as compared to the west or other parts of Canada, he replied that he does not find it that different. “The wind is more harsh and the air is damp but I think Canadians are a lot more similar than we would like to believe.”

As for changes that Paul has seen at the Faucet since he has been there, he says that with funding and commitment from the Struts Board, they have purchased a lot more equipment and initiated a full schedule of media arts programming that includes workshops, screenings, artist talks, residencies, festivals and exhibitions. Commenting on participants and audience, he had this to say, “We have a supportive and consistent community here, people come out for most of what we do regardless of its medium. The membership is interested in contemporary art, alternative culture and, in a town this size; you do not have a lot of options. … I already see that many of our active members have equipment similar to what we have but they still remain involved with the centre. I think that the most important thing that artist-run centres, media or otherwise have been able to offer over the years is a sense of community, a place to share in creative endeavors.” As Paul Henderson’s work experience with artist-run centres has been in smaller towns; Dawson City, Yukon and Sackville, New Brunswick, he knows first hand the necessity of becoming involved with the community as a whole. He further comments, “ I would say that no matter where you are, outreach has to be ongoing; remaining accessible to new folk and, programming for youth is essential. On National and International levels, he adds, “Answer emails, stay in touch.”

On the same trip east, I talked to Jim MacSwain, the current Programming Director for the Centre for Art Tapes in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His long history with the Centre for Art Tapes dates from 1983, and he has been part of that organization through the many transitions from analogue to the advent of digital media. CFAT became a production coop housed in the Alexandria Centre on Brunswick Street, in 1983. A Canada Council Grant facilitated the acquisition of startup equipment and he was on the Board at that time. Jim did a lot of video work 1983 – ’89 on the Centre’s three-quarter inch editing equipment. “I knew the 3/4 well and was able to sit and edit myself. Then the technology went through a number of format changes until we arrived at digital editing with mini- dv. The transitions took place roughly over about six years, from 1989 – 1995. During those times, I did not have time to learn each new system and I started to fall behind. I left Halifax in 1989 and spent four years in Toronto. When I came back, I wanted to do animation and started working over at the Atlantic Film- makers Cooperative. It is a very direct way of working and as I was already familiar with the technology, I was able to keep my independence. That is what my personal work consists of at present. Currently those labs are changing over from analogue to digital so it is becoming more difficult to work there.”

Sometimes those changeovers were very difficult. I am glad to have missed being actively involved with a media centre for some of the ‘in-between’ formats. – VL

I asked Jim to describe the biggest challenges facing the Centre for Art Tapes today. He talked about the ‘pajama revolution’ concept, “ As people have become competent with digital technology, you can basically get up in the morning with your pajamas on; go shoot, edit and produce, all in your

own environment. We had a lot of members here from the early to mid nineties, until maybe 1995, when people started getting their own equipment. So part of the biggest economic challenge for the Centre is to maintain a core group of people who are interested in experimental art video, audio, or new media work. We have been finding that establishing intermediate programs for those people with their own equipment, supplying actual cash and services in a competitive situation gives those intermediate and senior artists chances to come back to the centre to use our services and equipment.” Jim thinks that recovering from that potential loss of ‘senior artist influence and focus’ is something that the artist-run media centres have been universally facing as a result of the transition from analogue to digital.

Other programming taken on includes; a scholarship program for emerging artists, a program focusing on documentary and the ‘Video To Go.’ Through a CFAT Member or someone who might want to teach, ‘Video To Go’ offers access to community groups. “Youth in crisis, Students, or any other interested groups are taught how to use video to talk about racism, violence, or social problems that they want to address and put out to the public.”

When I asked him about similarities or differences that he is aware of between regions, Jim MacSwain cited recently compiled statistics related to federal funding to the arts through various cultural organizations. “The figures break down through CBC, NFB, Museums, Heritage Sites and others; until the amount coming to artists either through the Canada Council or other programs is much smaller.” He thinks that universally, the artist is marginalized, and the not-for- profit artists are even more marginalized. When I brought up the concept of the existence of at least two ‘schools of thought’ on the idea of art being an industry or not, he answered that he finds it very complicated. I agreed and we got into a discussion of questions concerning populist and high art. Of course, that discussion remains ongoing. I agree that there are projects designed for a smaller audience and others that rely on public interaction. It seems that, funding aside, there will always remain facets of artist culture within regions that find their peers within local, national and international regions. The interests and tastes of participants and audience in the world of art do run the full gamut from populist to high art and all points in between.

Jim finds that CFAT programming; artist in residence projects, and work brought other regions exhibit quality in both production values and content ‘across the board’. He added that ‘each region has a universal appeal and a regional uniqueness,’ while referring CFAT’s Magnetic North Program that asked a curator from every province to put a program together. When it was screened in Halifax, ideas of isolation, looking at nature and extreme weather conditions were all apparent.

As they do not currently have a screening or exhibition space, The Centre for Art Tapes has come with a very interesting solution to fulfilling these requirements. They have been able to partner with galleries and other interested groups to share facilities. The partners include: the Ecology Action Centre; the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design; the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; The Community College and the Architectural School. They hold what they call ‘Pivotal Sessions’ and are able to bring in ‘new audiences; creating critical discourse with a mature focus.’

In August 2005, I met up with Paul Wong at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, Visual Arts Conference in Comox, British Columbia. He has been working in media arts for thirty years and says that it has taken this long for the public awareness, the technology, the interest and the ideas to catch up. “There is enough of a foundation for people to realize, ‘Oh my God, he did this work in 1978, and it seems so long ago,’ … and that is kind of amazing to me. When I go to new media festivals and see that nine G4’s are being used to turn on a light bulb, I think that we were trying to do that thirty years ago. But we were not trying to turn on a light bulb, we were trying to turn on some ideas, and that was somehow completely different.”

We talked more about how much easier it has gotten and Paul remarked that ‘the five hundred dollar mini-dv camcorder’ was what they had dreamed of as democratic media thirty years earlier when they started places like the Video In. “We wanted to have a democratization of media, an evolution into independent media; a de-emphasizing of media infrastructure, that would end the monopoly held by corporations and governments. We are just at that place now and I still consider digital technology to be extraordinarily primitive.”

We both agreed that there is a long way to go; we should just be able to turn the thing on and forget about it. I mentioned the time period when digital technology became available and really affordable in the mid 1990’s and how big a change it was. Before that, there were all of the years when we had to go out to work in those refrigerated spaces. The artist-run media centres all had air-conditioning to keep the machines cool and running smoothly. It was great to have the access but now we can work wherever we can set up a computer. It has, as Paul remarked, finally caught up with what we wanted as artists.

I ask him about his involvement with artist-run culture over the years. He was a founding member of the Video In and the Video Out in 1973. He was just out of high school when he became part of a collective. He feels that he grew up with artist-run culture in Canada and that the experience was about trying to achieve common goals. Developing discussion was key. “The reason that we started was to get on television, to reach the masses. We wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible, not the most elite.” The changes that he witnessed over the years includes a synopsis of the Canadian scene, “ We started the Video In, another group started the Western Front, similar groups in Toronto, Calgary or Montréal came together to start centres. Eventually, it became ANNPAC. (Association of National Non-Profit Artists Centres) Paul was active in ANNPAC, believing in the kinds of local, provincial, national and international exchanges that the association could generate. He also talked about working to develop exchange programs with international artist groups in Asia, the UK, Italy and in South Africa. He enjoyed working with artist curators and commented that a lot of people from the artist-run culture have gone on to other positions within this country and to other parts of the world. We talked about that as an indication that the movement grew up. He now feels that there is a coalition of likeminded individuals who came out of the same place and that the artist-run centres grew from one, to two and on to form thousands worldwide.

We came back to the discussion of how startup funds were obtained in the beginning of the Canadian centres in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He said that the funding was fought for, on committees, through meetings with everyone, “For my part, I was doing performance in front of the CRTC as intervention, writing disposition papers to the CBC, meeting with the NFB, the Canada Council; doing battle and saying, ‘this is what we want.’ We wanted validation and we got it by proving that what we were doing was serious, valid, and that we had an audience. That audience was sometimes 5, 15, 20, 25, but it grew to hundreds and now thousands.”

When I asked him about shifts in genres that he has witnessed, he spoke emphatically about the consistent growth in electronic media. He saw video evolve from being a sub department; a subdivision of film at educational institutions, to becoming the major new department. He has seen it grow from a dozen practitioners to hundreds, “ You know, everyone is a video artist now. Video, for example is used in so many different kinds of ways, what I have seen in electronic media is complete growth. There has been diversification in application, audience, specialties and trends. We saw the explosion of the feminists, queer culture, the eco-terrorists, first nations, artists of colour, the cross-cultural movement; in essence, it keeps moving in terms of the way that different communities are embracing electronic media; to make art, to tell their stories. In my lifetime, growing up with black and white television with ‘rabbit ears’ and two channels, I have seen it move into what is now, a million channel universe on the Internet. And that has all been within four decades, a relatively short period of time.”

Given the whole recorded history of mankind, and how long electronic recording has existed, it is a very short time! I wanted to talk to Paul on the subject of distribution. He began by stating that he likes to define communities as ‘myself and somebody else.’ He then elaborated that a community can have control over their own means of production, exhibition and distribution, as was the case in the early days of the centres. Work was carried in person, by putting it in the mailbox, or by giving it to someone traveling. “Distribution was assured if there was a playback unit at the other end. Today there are many different ways to distribute. You can take whatever it is, your dvd, tape, or whatever format you are using and play it somewhere but closed circuit is the only place where you can have as much control as possible. A million channels of distribution on the Internet is no safe territory, it is controlled by a very few. Satellite transmissions, any type of telecommunications system; those networks that we rely on are not in our hands, in our power.”

Of political battles at artist-run centres, Paul Wong cited the demise of ANNPAC. In Calgary, 1993, “ I was very much involved in it because I was part of the Minquon Panchayat. We were brought in as an outside consultancy group to transform ANNPAC to be more representative, more diverse. It all collapsed when the organization was not ready to embrace the changes that they had contracted us to advise them on.” I ask in what ways were they not ready if they had requested the consultation and how did Minquon Panchayat come about?” Paul elaborated, “It was in the early days of people talking about artists of colour, diversity and the lack of diversity, within the contemporary Canadian art movement. There was a lot of discussion around it so organizations were being pressured to look at themselves. Questions such as ‘why is everyone on your Board from the white middle class’, and what that meant, were brought forward. A lot of times the pressure came from outside because diversity became a buzzword. The funding bodies were all looking that way too, so survival depended on embracing the challenge, whatever that meant to an organization. So it was hypocritical to begin with, there was a lot of splintering, but a lot of it was not necessarily negative. There may have appeared to be negative moments but I think most of it has blossomed into positive growth.”

I asked Paul the ‘crystal ball question.’ From his experience, what he could see as future directions that artist-run media centres could follow? He answered that we are all looking at the fact that we can own our media production tools. “I can just as easily sit at home, so what makes me come to an artist run centre? It is community. The centres have an important role to play to get me out of my isolation. Coming out to be engaged in a much more active discussion, no longer based on hardware, but on information, concepts, politics; or working toward common goals is important. Meeting over common issues will pull us all forward and the artist-run centres will continue to have purpose if they can create those reasons to bring me out of my shell. I think that the membership should not only be inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural, but also inter-generational. You have to be a good host, do good promotion and be well organized. It is a two- way dialogue when an event takes place and I think commissioning projects is very important. Curatorial practice that addresses and links locals with the national and international scenes; doing that kind of mixing, being really good distributors, being good importers, it is all important. If I am sitting there making my videos all by myself, something has to snap me out of that, to make me come out to be engaged. Human contact, sharing, exchange of ideas; that is where it originally developed and a lot of success was not about coming out to a dark room to watch a screen but creating a sense of occasion, live interaction. Sometimes, you have to make it a spectacle.

Paul Wong has widely exhibited, his work has been written about extensively, and he has received many awards for outstanding achievements over the years. In 2005, he received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He is an articulate speaker, has a lot to say, and it was interesting to talk to him. As it is probably evident from what I have written here, interviewing him was more a challenge of choosing the right pause in his delivery to interject a new question.

Vern Hume is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba and he moved to Calgary to do graduate studies at the University of Calgary, “ I was working at a ‘McJob’; that is what I call the jobs I did to support my art work. I was the art director for a small advertising agency, doing commercial art and I got sick of it. Although post secondary education was going through a lot of cutbacks, I had this idea to get my masters degree and teach. I had the choice to go to York or to come further west. I did not really have the money to go to York and they were not offering any scholarships, the University of Calgary offered a full scholarship and gave me a plane ticket to come out. So, oddly enough, it was the economics that led me here, and when you think about it, for a lot of people, that is how they come to Calgary.

Siimilarly to Paul Wong, Vern’s, involvement with artist-run centres began while he was still a teenager, but in his second year of art school. He used to hang around the Arthur Street Gallery in Winnipeg. (later became Plug-In Gallery) He started going to see stuff in ‘this weird space downtown.’ “It was thrilling, exciting, a little frightening” and he had never seen anything like it before. When Vern finished art school, he was faced with the same prospect that many emerging artists had, ‘to leave town.’ (We both laugh as I remark about ‘the Canadian choice.’) Then he told me the story of how he found ways to stay in Winnipeg. “Yes, the Canadian thing, to leave town. There had been a big recession touched off by an oil crisis in the 70’s and the economy was not that great, Toronto was incredibly expensive, and from Winnipeg, you would not ‘naturally’ go ‘west’, you would go to Toronto or the States. But there were a couple of us who stuck around the city. The only venues for work were the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Arthur Street Gallery. There were more of us than there were shows and for whatever reasons, a great mixture of people came together and started creating artist-run organizations. Some were very short lived, one that we started was more of a club where we did art events. I met Alex Poruchnyk who had just come back from grad school in the east. He had his own video gear, which was quite unusual for the time and we made a tape together. It became part of my installation. Gerry Kisil (who now teaches at ACAD) made one or two of his first tapes with Alex’s gear and we rented time at a commercial studio to edit the work.” Following that, the group decided to put a package of their first tapes together and circulate it. The group became Video Pool and got started just as Vern was leaving for grad school in Calgary.

When he arrived at the University of Calgary, he was supposed to be doing sculpture but wanted to do media work. He knew about Centre Art Video (EMMEDIA) and started to work there. Both Centre Art Video and Video Pool started as part of other artist-run centres. The rationale at the time from the Canada Council was to fund the equipment for these organizations under the operating budget of the existing artist-run gallery, in case the group fell apart. The Council needed a stable organization to deal with the equipment if the group dissolved. So, in Calgary, EMMEDIA was started under the Off Centre Centre and in Winnipeg, Video Pool started under Plug-In Gallery.

At present Vern Hume says he has come full circle, he is doing commercial artwork again and has not worked on his own projects for several years. He recalls that during the time that he was at EMMEDIA, there was a focus on the idea of the regional voice. They would produce shows of artists work from this area and tour them and they brought other artists work into the community. “There was always this idea of ‘who was looking,’ who was the audience. There was the idea in the air of gaining larger, more general audiences and my ideas started to shift in that direction. I got sucked into the idea that in order to gain larger audiences, the work had to go upscale and my own work had been made on a fairly small scale. I had the opportunity to move over to the Banff Centre where it looked as if the scale would be larger and it would be possible to pursue some of these interests and the idea of independent artists, television, as opposed to artists’ video.” He was involved as Producer on a number of projects there, including; the Artists Television Workshop (I also worked with Vern on the Artist Television Workshop 1989-90 while an Associate in the Media Arts in Banff) and Travelogue Banff. There were also co-productions including international participants such as BRT, Belgium. It was an attempt to create work that could move across into the broadcast world but he began to realize that his strengths were not there. Years of cutbacks began under the Mulroney Government and he formed a partnership with another Banff Employee, Don Stein. Together they began the Chameleon Media Arts Society. Daniel Dugas and I were fortunate to be accepted to create a project through Chameleon. It was carried out at the Banff Centre in conjunction with the Music Department and during a residency, we created the audio work, Acadia Woods. Chameleon’s focus became the development of computer based work, early inter-arts projects, and it aimed to form new community ties between artists, to seed growth. Chameleon led Vern in new directions until he eventually ended back in Calgary where he is today; he works at Ground Level Design, the company he started in 1997.

I asked Vern about changes that he saw at EM and although he has not been directly involved for several years, he feels that because the Scholarship Program has continued, it was a good initiative. Nelson Henricks, Colleen Kerr and many other people have come through that program over the years. “The interesting thing about it is that, at the time, we were looking at expanding the seeding of the community, encouraging activity and growth, which was a lot harder at that point.”

More opportunities to create, to show work and increased funding has opened up since that time. EM’s primary focus when it started has remained the same for many years: video production and programming. Audio production always happened here but seems to have remained mostly ‘secondary’ to video or as an aspect of video production. I asked Vern for his views on that, “We programmed audio art as well as video art as it came through and, at that time, we tried to program what we considered more ‘media-like multimedia artists’ as well, the early multi-media stuff. In accommodating for audio, we bought a ‘hugely expensive’ multi-track unit and a lot of audio works were done with that. There were people who were keenly interested in audio, Steve Heimbecker, for one, and those activities tended to be driven by individuals. The programming focus was always quite broad and included that in terms of the actual support facility, but it was probably always more focused toward video.”

EMMEDIA has sponsored a number of workshops for the web and a few web cast projects have emanated from there. I asked what Vern, as a businessman building online corporate profiles could envision as EM’s online future. “Well, I think the role of an organization like EMMEDIA is more around community building and connecting people. I am just taking a big stab at it, because the web is entirely different place, in some ways, things are easier to connect together there. I think creating opportunities for people or focusing into the web is more possible because it has gotten so affordable. It really has changed, but that does not necessarily mean that (individually) you would have the opportunity to interact with other people who are doing the same thing, so that could be EM’s role, to be a catalyst for online community.”

When I asked him what his specific strategy would be to attract new membership he stressed that ‘you do need passion and vision to move an organization along and it does not necessarily work within an organization that is democratic, unless the organization has infinite resources to move in a lot of directions at once. So, if it responds to its membership, it may tend to be more conservative but you will always see individuals who have a strong sense of direction, vision and passion that might push it in a new direction.’ He added that he works about a block from the current location and that EM is almost invisible when you walk out the door. (something discussed earlier with Karilynn Ming Ho) “And when you are inside of it, it may not seem that way, but when you are not part of it, it is entirely invisible culturally. This comes back to audience and I have really changed my views on this, you have to find the people who would like to find it, you have to make it easy for those people. I don’t know if it is ever going to be something that reaches general visibility, or if it ever needs to be, but how could you connect to those people these days? I do not think that it is any different than what I do for commercial clients. It is really important to be visible, and easy to find on the web, because again if that is the kind of people that you are looking for, where are they going to turn to locate organizations? So the web presence for the group is really important and it should be treated equally as important as the actual physical location.”

I asked him if he was pointing to the idea of the website opening up, evolving to include more programming and he came back with the answer that it should be treated like a studio, organic, with a community created around it. “In the educational world these days, it is called ‘community in practice.’ It is an online community of people that can contribute, but they don’t have to be there physically. It extends the organization. The reach is basically global and you can coalesce a community around a site.” I thanked him for those comments as they were things I was hoping to find in my talks with various artists. I went on to ask him how he thought EM scored in terms of maintaining local, regional and national profiles; in serving its perceived audience. His first reaction was that he could not comment as he has been physically absent from EM for about 11 years, and then he offered, “I would have thought that was really important then to seek that elusive larger audience, and that is why I left, but I think things have changed dramatically over time and so has my perspective. Today, it is more important to define who your audience is, and the real measure is how effective you are in reaching that particular audience and serving that particular community that you have identified. … and if it is a potential audience of 5 in the entire city who are interested in it, and you’ve got four of them, that would be very successful. That is how I measure it now; it is a relative measure. If you have a potential audience of five and no one shows up, you are in trouble. And the trick is to find those five people, it has to come from knowing who the work is going out to and figuring out how to connect with those people. It does not have to be five hundred thousand.” There, he said it; audience is built one person at a time.


Austin Andrews, a producer member at EMMEDIA, first joined in 1999. Although he was only 13 when he first visited EM, Austin was already six months into production on his feature-length spoof Jurassic Park (With Cats). EMMEDIA’s Pro Tools suite provided him with a way to match human voices to the movements of his animal actors. He took a one-hour workshop to get started in the audio suite and considers the benefits of his formative months at EMMEDIA as his first real jump into the “adult” world. Prior to that time, he had only edited on his family’s Hi8 camcorder. Several months later, after using EM’s audio suite, voiceover booth, and the screening room, he began to ‘get a taste of the community built around the Centre’s resources.’ Over the next couple of years he signed up and took every workshop that he could. Austin learned editing from Jim Goertz, lighting from Brian Batista, and production management from Shauna Kennedy. He feels that it was a time when he was able to supplement his ‘already strong’ do-it-yourself attitude with a firm knowledge base. Of his advent into ‘making movies’, Austin says that computers and the Internet were a big part of his life from an early age, but he became interested in cinema and television when it became possible for him to make his own movies.

He says that, ‘what began as a simple phase, blossomed into an all-consuming passion and his logical career path.’ Austin is currently employed in the television and commercials industry in Calgary. He finds that he is less and less concerned with challenging the conventions, and is currently working on a feature length project of his own. He volunteers as a member of EM’s production committee and says he has enjoyed watching the growth of EM’s undertakings. Although the Calgary Underground Film Festival, is not purely an EMMEDIA initiative, Austin thinks that it is a strong tool for EM to use in diversifying its interests, and in efforts to reach out to a larger community. _______________________________________________________________

Conclusion / Epilogue

Each person has her / his own idea of what an artist-run media centre should offer and how she / he can work within that centre. The personal and professional growth of myriads of Canadian Artists has been influenced and shaped, through contact and involvement with Canadian Artist Run Centres. Most have benefited directly from the contact; for some, it has boosted their direction toward more strongly independent paths.

Some of the crises, as with the dissolution of ANNPAC in 1994, have signaled collective and personal restructuring. There are many examples of crises but more evidence of breakthroughs: in the technological, intellectual and behavioral evolutions generated by artist-run centre members. Every Centre should provide an open and welcoming environment to those who walk in the door and over the years, there has been added attention to ensuring that occurring. The keeping of records through paper, photographs, videotape, audiotape, film and digital media proves that if a breakdown in any form occurs, there is the opportunity to learn from what has come before.

I might have thought that economics could be one the biggest challenges in the continuity of a volunteer assisted, not-for-profit organization. Although it has been and remains a determining factor in the lives of many individual artists, a strong media arts centre can rely on the strengths of its collective membership for guidance during lean times. Sometimes the weighing of finances can have a very positive effect for a centre. Waiting until a new technology has advanced past the technological ‘hiccups’ can be wise. Vern Hume is one artist that EMMEDIA gained as a result of him weighing out the economics of grad school and choosing to make Calgary his home. Finance always came up in the conversations but never was it seen to be a key for defining success. Many of those interviewed saw ‘the offer of community’, in any of its descriptions, as the single most important benefit of belonging to an artist run centre.

The changes brought from the outside world through the advent into the current information technology based societies has given rise to an open and seemingly endless environment for media artists development and exposure.

As many artists are able to afford home based production facilities, the chance to show their creations, to get out to an event, and to converse within a peer group are sought after. The more people live online to communicate during the ‘day job’ and to create artworks using computer screens, the more valuable face-to- face contact becomes.

I have noticed from attending EMMEDIA’s launchings, screenings and openings that each artist / creative participant draws her / his own audience built of project participants, colleagues, peers, friends, and family. I have also realized that the crowds for events really vary according to the demographic of the creator / producer. More and more I see that it has become rare to go out to an EMMEDIA event and find the same audience. Sometimes there is a small core group of regulars, but for the most part, the varying audience seems to indicate that EM serves an art community as well as many other interest groups. In the relocation prospects for EMMEDIA, Calgary members interviewed spoke strongly of the need for maintaining the programs and facilities offered at the present location. Most think if useful to ensure that there will be a screening room as well as an installation / exhibition space. Jim Goertz mentioned the prospect of adding a production room with lighting grid. The Faucet Media Centre, a relatively new facility is happy with the advantages of maintaining its symbiotic relationship within the Struts Gallery in Sackville, New Brunswick. In the context of maintaining links with the character of EMMEDIA, some members feel that being housed in a building with other, or another ‘likeminded’ artist centres will be an important element for the future.

Being proactive and maintaining a ‘heads up’ attitude to new technology, new people and to youth programming is seen to be as important as finding ways to bring intermediate and senior artists back to share their expertise and focus. In the collective of EMMEDIA’s present and past is the full range of artists who went on to achieve through the recognizable signposts of public awards and those who, for any number of personal of professional reasons, discontinued the course of their media arts careers.

As time progresses, we may know how or why some artists cannot continue, in the meantime, working to nurture the persistent remains important. If EMMEDIA’s scheduled plans to expand web presence move forward, we may see the opening up of the web studio suggested by Vern Hume. As electronic media continues to grow, we are all riding that exciting wave of possible outcomes. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is that, like any organic structure, the ‘ride’ continues as long as there are participants.

The comments in this text come from ten persons interviewed in Calgary and in other parts of Canada. It is a sample of what the group as a whole, and those individuals think and feel from their experiences. The story of EMMEDIA is as complicated and simple as the recounting of the years, yet any analogy made to a living organism must be to that organization’s life as collective memory and evidence of its lifetime to date. When anyone person thinks back in time, there are bound to be crossovers, lapses and ‘high times’ that stand out as monumental. A linear history would be a slim sample; a cross section of the weaving of the EMMEDIA fabric. Taking the idea further, EMMEDIA is a matrix of the professional and personal lives of its individual membership over the past twenty-five years.

I found optimism in the words of all of the Individuals I spoke with and everyone had good ideas to consider for the future of EMMEDIA. Maybe part of the picture rises from the similarity of comments. There certainly can be no ‘magic potion’ in the morphing of such an organic environment as EMMEDIA, or any artist run media centre. As concepts and technology develop and change, the shape will be seen and heard through the efforts and needs of its communities. The concept of those communities is local, national, international, and in that order, messages will be created and sent out in whatever form of media carries them best. And backing up the messages of its members will be the integrity of the Staff, Board, and Volunteers, in essence, the collective that is EMMEDIA.

- Valerie LeBlanc, Calgary April 12, 2006

About Valerie LeBlanc

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, pluri-­disciplinary artist and writer Valerie LeBlanc has worked in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia. Her creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Valerie LeBlanc has been creating video poetry since the mid 1980’s, and is the creator of the MediaPackBoard (MPB), portable screening / performance device.

L’artiste pluridisciplinaire Valerie LeBlanc est vidéaste, poète, performeuse et essayiste. Son travail oscille entre le remarquable et le quotidien. Elle a exposé ses œuvres en Europe, en Australie et au Brésil. Elle crée des vidéopoèmes depuis le milieu des années 1980 et a inventé le MediaPackBoard (MPB), un appareil de projection mobile pour la performance.

Date : April 2020
Genre : Vidéopoésie/Videopoetry

Videopoetry / Vidéopoésie

Small Walker Press

Date : January 2021
Genre : Poetry